In a strong signal to both the U.S. and NATO over the crisis in Ukraine, a Russian official on Saturday said that Moscow may suspend inspections of its nuclear weapons arsenal, a practice long done in accordance with arms control treaties designed to alleviate international tensions between the nuclear-armed powers.
According to the New York Times:
The official said the move was justified by “baseless threats” against Russia by the United States and NATO. A suspension of the inspections would undermine a pillar of international security and expand the confrontation beyond Ukraine itself.
Although President Obama has made it clear that the United States does not want to escalate the Crimean crisis, the Pentagon stepped up training operations in Poland and sent fighter jets to patrol the skies over Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, three former Soviet republics that, like Ukraine, have sizable ethnic Russian populations.
Despite its threat and what appeared in the last twenty-four hours as Russia tightening its military hold on the Crimea peninsula, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated his nation's position by saying that it supports a diplomatic solution to the situation.
"We are ready to continue a dialogue on the understanding that a dialogue should be honest and partner-like, without attempts to portray us as one of the parties in the conflict,” Lavrov said, indicating his rejection of the way the U.S. specifically has painted Russia's involvement so far.
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On Friday, both chambers of Russia's legislative branch, the Federation Council, voted to support the referendum vote declared by the regional government of Crimea on Thursday. The new government in Kiev has said such a vote would illegitimate and the U.S. and E.U. have backed that position.
As part of its ongoing coverage of events, the Guardian rounded up Saturday's other key developments:
- Ukrainian border guards say an observation plane came under fire but no one was hurt.
- France and the US have said the Crimea referendum lacks any legal basis and told Russia to let in international observers.
- Many reporters have witnessed a large convoy of Russian military vehicles moving into Crimea.
- Observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe were refused entry to Crimea after having warning shots fired near them.
- Ukrainian state institutions have been under cyber attack from unnamed hackers.
- Poland has closed its consulate in Crimea because of harassment of its staff.